James and I have been praying for a Russian tutor for me for the rest of the summer until we leave. The other day, a woman fell into step with me leaving the shops, and said she’s our neighbor, and she has a 16-year-old daughter who’s studying English, and is graduating in the Russian language (which usually means she’s more fluent in Russian than even in her own language). Her major in “college” (glorified high school) is languages; she already speaks her own minority language, and she’s currently studying the local majority language, English, Russian, Turkish and a bit of Arabic! Her mom basically suggested a language exchange, which I was ok with since it’s just for the 2 months til we leave. (Usually I don’t want to spend time teaching English, I just want to learn the language.)
So her daughter “Noreen” came over on Thursday morning for our first session. I discovered she can read English fluently and understands about 80-90%, but finds it difficult to form her own sentences to answer questions. (That’s because they don’t actually speak English in English class, they just learn how to read and write it.) I think it will be pretty easy just to talk with her about various topics to improve her fluency, and I’ll choose topics that hopefully will lead to deeper conversations. We only had time for about 20 minutes of Russian at the end of that first class, and so I was pleasantly surprised when she said, “Do you have time tonight?” When I said yes, she offered to come back that night after Will was in bed. We spent over an hour working just on Russian; she had brought a list of pronouns for me to copy and an idea for a dialogue to help me answer common questions, which showed a good degree of initiative and also proved that she’s interested in actually helping me learn Russian and not just speaking English with me—a good sign. We had a great time together, too—she has a very sweet, intelligent, apt personality and I think she’ll be a great summer tutor. So that’s a real answer to prayer. Please pray for her and for her parents and younger brother; they live about 3 houses down from us, and hopefully will become good friends.
In other news, we’ve been invited to our first big “toi” or celebration this Friday night. Our neighbor is turning 50, and she’s inviting 150 people to a café in a neighboring town to celebrate. Where we used to live people hardly even knew what day was their own birthday; apparently birthdays are a much bigger deal over here. According to our teammates, the party doesn’t usually get underway until around 9 or 10pm, and it kicks off with dancing and lots of vodka and toasts. The main meal isn’t served until around midnight or so, and after that the dancing and drinking carries on until 1 or 2am. The locals here of all ethnicities either drink to get drunk, or don’t drink at all (a very small minority)—there’s no such thing as having one or two beers. So of course when our neighbor invited us, she asked if we drink. When I said no, she looked a bit crestfallen (I think she was imagining the added entertainment of a couple of drunk foreigners!), but said we should come anyway because everyone would be so delighted that we speak the local language. “You don’t have to make a toast,” she says, “but if you do people will be so amazed that you can speak local!” (Gotta get her entertainment out of us somehow.) “And plus, you have a car, so you can bring the neighbors!” Oh, goody. A car loaded with drunk, slaphappy locals. We’ll be sure to let you know how it goes… !